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  • By Kara Newcastle

Myth Monday: Melusine

Myth Monday: Melusine (European Legend)

Fougères Église Saint-Sulpice Baie by GO69

Now for a mermaid of a slightly different sort; Melusine!

A long time ago, not long before the Crusades, King Elinas of Scotland was riding through the forest when he came upon a natural spring, which was tended to by the extraordinarily beautiful fairy Pressyne. Elinas was immediately lovestruck and asked Pressyne to be his wife. Pressyne agreed, but under one condition; Elinas can never visit her while she was in labor with her children, or when she was bathing them. Elinas saw nothing wrong with the request and they married. Pressyne soon became pregnant with triplets, and when the time came she secluded herslf in the castle and gave birth to three girls: Melusine, Melior and Plantina. As Elinas waited for news of the birth, his son from a previous marriage began to worry, wondering why his stepmother had insisted on such secrecy. Fearing that the fairy woman was perhaps committing some diabolical act, he pressured their father to check. Swayed by fear, Elinas barged into the birthing room. Pressyne was devastated that her husband didn’t trust her enough to keep his promise, so she gathered up her infant daughters and fled to a fairy island.

Many years later after the triplets had grown to be young women, Melusine heard the story of her father’s betrayal and was incensed. Plotting with her sisters, Melusine lured King Elinas to a cave and they sealed him there as punishment, wanting him to suffer the ay their mother had suffered. Proud of having gotten their revenge, the triplets ran off to tell their mother, but Pressyne was horrified at their cruelty. She scolded the younger two sisters but Melusine, the eldest, she held most responsible, and she cursed the girl to turn into a dragon-like water monster every Saturday for eternity. She then banished Melusine to another spring in a forest far away.

Grief-stricken but unrepentant, Melusine accepted her fate, becoming the guardian fairy of the spring. She lived there in solitude for decades, never seeing another living soul aside from the forest-dwelling animals that would come to drink from her waters. Melusine mourned that she would never have a family.

But then that all changed.

Jean d'Arras Histoire de la belle Mélusine Dutch version 1491

One day Raymond, the Duke of Anjou, separated from his hunting party and lost in the woods, chanced upon Melusine’s spring. Relieved to find water, he dismounted his horse, then jolted back in shock as he glimpsed a beautiful woman leaping into the waters, swimming fearfully away from him. Stunned speechless, Raymond watched as the woman reached the middle of the pool and paused, turning to get a look at him. The nobleman was instantly smitten, and he beseeched the young woman to return to him. The woman refused and vanished beneath the water’s surface.

Raymond returned every day, pleading with the young woman to speak with him. Eventually, the woman, intrigued by the desperate and handsome man, grew to trust him, and told him that he name was Melusine. Raymond declared that he was in love with Melusine and would not rest until she was his wife. Melusine replied that she could not be his wife, as she was bound to the fountain. Raymond declared if Melusine could not leave, then he would build a castle there for her. Astounded by his vow, Melusine agreed to marry him, but under one condition: he must never see her on a Saturday, and never ask what she did during that day. Raymond found the request strange, but, deciding that he would get to see his beautiful wife the other six days of the week, he agreed.

The duke made good his promise and built a castle by Melusine’s spring. The two married happily, and Raymond never visited Melusine on a Saturday, and never questioned what she was doing inside her private chambers during that day. The pair quickly produced children, and while their first few sons were handsome babies, their next few came out increasingly ugly and deformed. Melusine was heartbroken to see her children so disfigured, but she loved them regardless.

However, Duke Raymond was increasingly alarmed at his children’s appearance, and those in his court began to whisper loudly about the cause. Many thought that these ugly children were not actually the nobleman’s sons; they must have been the products of Melusine’s dalliance with a demon. She must have been a witch. After all, she hid herself away every Saturday and never told anyone what she was doing. What better time to practice dark magic?

Raymond paranoid. What if his wife really was a witch? What if these hideous boys were half demon? Eventually he couldn’t stand not knowing what Melusine was doing on those Saturdays, so just before midnight on a Friday, Raymond slipped into her private chambers and hid himself behind the tapestries to wait. Shortly before the bells tolled, Melusine entered her chambers, bidding goodnight to her ladies in waiting then closing and bolting shut the heavy door. Disrobing, beautiful Melusine approached her huge bathtub, filled with water from her fountain, and lifted one long leg …

Julius Hübner 'Die schöne Melusine' 1844

From his hiding place, Raymond watched in horror as Melusine’s leg warped, the shapely foot growing wider, sprouting claws. Overlapping iridescent green scales burst forth on Melusine’s white skin, climbing up her legs, stopping just before her navel. A long, sinuous tail grew out of her back as a pair of leathery, spiny wings suddenly tore free from her back. Wrapping her tail around her and folding her wings back, the half-dragon woman sighed as she eased herself down into the water, sinking up to her neck …

Unable to bear the shock of it, Raymond screamed and leapt out from behind the tapestry, causing Melusine to shriek in fright and spring up in the water, her wings flaring out over her head. She stared in disbelief as the duke edged past her, pointing a shaking finger at her as he called her a demon, a witch, a succubus, claiming that she bewitched him and damned their children. His cruel words ignited a grieving fury in Melusine, and as tears sprang to her eyes she shouted, “How dare you! You betrayed my promise! We would have lived in love and glory forever, but now you have lost me!”

Sobbing, Melusine sprang from the tub and raced to the nearest window. Raymond felt a scream of horror building in his throat as his beautifully hideous wife threw herself out into the open air, but as he ran to watch her fall, he jumped back in terror as Melusine fully transformed herself into a winged dragon and took flight. Circling the castle three times, the dragon Melusine bellowed out her despair and flew back into the forest.

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry mars detail Melusine flying over Chateau de Lusignan

Raymond never saw Melusine again, and was forever conflicted about spying on her that fateful Saturday. He soon remarried, but had no idea that Melusine in her half-fairy, half-dragon form regularly snuck back into the castle at night to nurse and care for her sons. Her sons all grew to be great kings and mighty warriors, and to this day it is said that when one of their descendants passes away, the fairy-mermaid-dragon Melusine is heard wailing in grief.

Mélusine allaitant

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